It’s funny to think about now, but when the Yankees traded for Clint Frazier at the deadline in 2016, it really marked a turning point for the direction of the Yankees. The front office admitted it wasn’t very good, and sold all of its pieces of value. The Yanks received Frazier as the centerpiece of the Andrew Miller trade, which came only a few days shipping Aroldis Chapman to Chicago for Gleyber Torres. In a matter of days, the team completely revitalized its farm system.
Frazier stood right at the center of it all. After the trade, Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the second-best prospect in the NYY system. Keith Law had him ranked third (subs req’d), behind Torres and Blake Rutherford. Over at River Ave Blues, Mike Axisa said this:
Having followed Frazier these last few years, I’m comfortable saying right now that he immediately takes over as the Yankees’ top prospect. He has premium bat speed and power from the right side to go along with center field caliber defensive tools. Frazier has the kind of talent that could potentially make him the offensive cornerstone the Yankees have been lacking since Robinson Cano left.
Point of all of this is to say that Clint was immediately viewed as one of the next big pieces of the Yanks. After a wave of successful player development that accelerated the timeline for contention, Clint was viewed as the next young Yankee to follow Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Gleyber Torres.
This year, though, all of that has changed–and it seems as if many fans and analysts have written Clint out of the future entirely. Here is a sample of some recent headlines, following his recent spat with the media:
- Clint Frazier is killing his trade value in Yankees’ agony (New York Post)
- MLB trade rumors: 6 Yankees who could be targets, including Clint Frazier, Domingo German (NJ.com)
- What should Yankees do with Clint Frazier? Sit him? Demote him? 4 options (NJ.com)
- Clint Frazier’s immaturity may cause the Yankees to trade him (Fansided)
- Yankees MLB Trade Rumors: Clint Frazier, Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer (Metro)
That, of course, is just a sampling. It’s all over Twitter and WFAN. SNY’s Andy Martino recently reported that the Yankees will be aggressive in trying to move him. In fact, they’ve done so in the past already. Remember, the Yanks tried to move Frazier to Pittsburgh for Gerrit Cole after 2017.
There’s good reason for this, of course, as the Yanks need a pitcher and Clint would be traded from a position of strength. Not to mention, as much as I might defend Frazier after the media episode, it’s impossible to deny that it matters to the team. That’s fueling a willingness (even an eagerness) among many fans to see Frazier gone.
That is a mistake, because lost in all of the noise is a simple fact: Clint Frazier is good, and the Yankees might need to rely on him as soon as next year.
Let’s quickly break this one down.
Clint Frazier is Good, Actually
I’m going to repeat this one again, saying it a little louder for the folks in the back: Clint Frazier is good. Yes, I know that he’s been the worst defender in baseball according to virtually every advanced defensive metric. And yes, it’s clear that he and the Yankees (let alone the media) haven’t always had the simplest of relationships. But again: the kid can play.
He’s hitting .276/.328/.523 (120 wRC+) on the season with 11 home runs in 174 at-bats. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s one every 15 at-bats, more or less. Over a full season (about 550 at-bats, give or take), that amounts to about 35 home runs.
That’s about as good as any of us would have hoped for from a 24-year-old coming off a lost season. It’s important sometimes to take a step back and remember that, because, as we know, a whole lot of noise has surrounded Frazier so far. But he can play. He really can.
This is going to be an example of an Arbitrary Endpoint, but take a look at these two stretches Clint has gone on:
- April 6 to April 22: .345/.361/.707 (176 wRC+) with 6 home runs in 61 plate appearances (just under 50% of his hits went for extra bases)
- June 2 to June 11: .323/.389/.548 (145 wRC+) with 1 home run in 36 plate appearances (50% of his hits during this stretch have gone for extra bases)
Now, small sample sizes and arbitrary endpoints and all, but bear with me a second. That first stretch came when the Yanks were getting more bad news each day and were ravaged with injuries. It’s not an exaggeration at all to say that Clint carried the offense for those three weeks. He was essential.
The second stretch actually began the night of the defensive meltdown on Sunday Night Baseball against Boston. I don’t know about you, but I think that is mighty, mighty impressive to do in response to the media firestorm, fan backlash, and wave of trade rumors. It’s impressive. Even Brian Cashman agrees, saying:
“Regardless of all that [turbulence], if you decide to go the other way and fight back and push through and create turbulence, at the end of the day, your performance is going to speak for itself. The one thing that’s been really exciting is how he’s played since that. He’s really swung the bat well.”
Cashman is right. It is exciting to see Frazier respond this way, and it should not go unnoticed by fans, even those more inclined to remember a single bad defensive night than a stretch of success.
The Yankees Will Need Him in 2020
It’s clear that Clint can hit. Those numbers above (including his season total, not just my endpoints that make him look especially good) are legit numbers. That would probably make trading him easier, but it’s worth remembering that while the Yankee outfield seems full, it really is not.
This is something that came up repeatedly when the Yankees were not linked to Bryce Harper all winter: the outfield is full. That’s not true. Don’t believe it. It’s now been two straight years the Yankees have gone into the season with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Brett Gardner as the top 4 outfielders vying for 3 positions. It’s now been two years where the Yanks have had to rely on AAAA players like Mike Tauchman and Shane Robinson for extended periods.
Next year, Brett Gardner will likely be gone, erasing the imaginary outfield logjam and opening up more playing time for Frazier. He’ll be 25 and hopefully building off a healthier, consistent 2019 going into next year.
Now, you might ask if a player like Frazier, with a bad glove (even though I don’t think he’s as bad as we’ve seen, he’s never been a glove-first guy) is really suited for a 4th OF role. That would be a fair question. But it’s also fair to say that Clint’s clearly capable of being a plus MLB bat. If Clint hits like he has this year, that’s a player for whom any team would make room.
Besides, he’d get a steady dose of playing time with the way that the Yanks rotate players into the DH slot and with prescheduled off days. The idea that there’s no place for Frazier on the team is a misguided one at best.
This is all to say that the Yanks have something valuable in Clint Frazier. He’s proven himself capable of hitting MLB pitching at a high level, and there’ll be an open roster spot for him next year. That is all good. Very good.
Now, Frazier will certainly be an attractive trade chip. It makes sense as to why he’s at the center of every trade rumor involving the Yanks. It does. And the Yanks will need to upgrade their rotation, as we know. It does make sense to think Clint is the expendable piece.
But who do you get in return? If you look at Clint Frazier honestly, without distractions, what you see is a very capable young player. One not likely to be moved for a rental or a declining pitcher. In other words, Clint Frazier may be around for far longer than the trade deadline.